SEA ISLE CITY - Several parents urged the Board of Education on Tuesday to reconsider its efforts to close the elementary school and consolidate with Ocean City.
The board sent a letter last week to Gov. Chris Christie and the state Department of Education urging the commissioner to order a merger of Sea Isle and Ocean City. The directive would allow Ocean City to absorb Sea Isle City's students without obligating Ocean City's Board of Education to hire Sea Isle's tenured teachers.
With shrinking enrollment and diminishing state aid, Sea Isle has been paying tuition to send more of its students to Ocean City in recent years. Now the school teaches just pre-kindergarten to third grade.
Ocean City, which also has seen enrollment shrink, has welcomed students from its sending districts.
Consolidating the districts would cut costs for both: an estimated $770,000 to $937,000 per year for Sea Isle and $465,000 per year for Ocean City, after expenses, Business Administrator Thomas P. Grossi said.
Resident Brian Heritage became visibly distraught while talking about what the school means to his family.
"I believe this community is making a big mistake. I was raised here. I went to school here," he said. "It's a mistake not to make this work. As a parent of two, I feel it's vital to keep this small educational foundation in this town."
Michelle McDermott said she moved to Sea Isle City two years ago after returning to the United States from Ireland. She said neighbors and teachers quickly welcomed her family.
"My son, Luke, has made great friends here and he loves this place," she said. "For it to close would be a slap in the face to this community."
The school has 47 students, seven full-time and three part-time teachers, and shares a superintendent and business administrator with Ocean City.
Board President Valere Egnasko said the district cannot afford its expenses under the state budget cap. The board has tried to lease empty space at the elementary school but has found no takers from government agencies or private institutions in Cape May County.
"The debate isn't one of whether the school experience is better in Ocean City versus Sea Isle," she said. "The continual shrinking box of constraints on a small district has left us with no other options."
Egnasko said the move is inevitable, both financially and demographically.
The board introduced a $4 million budget Tuesday and will hold a public hearing at 7 p.m. March 22 at the school.
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